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  • Home > Components of all distance learning systems - Updated: 2003-11-26 10:27 am

    It is the mission of a distance learning system that defines its role within the context of national policy. The mission may be directed towards particular purposes, target groups, regions, sectors or levels of education and training, and driven by particular values and philosophies of learning and education. The mission statement of a public institution will be part of a national policy, while the mission of private organizations may fulfil subsidiary functions in relation to the public institutions. On the other hand, private organizations must respond to the needs of particular market segments, especially of the labour market, both quickly and efficiently.
    Courses and curricula define the profile of a system or institution. They should be related to the mission and to defined needs or markets. Many distance education systems provide courses in preparation for examinations and degrees which are equivalent or similar to those offered by conventional institutions, and subject to similar regulations as regards content, admission and assessment.

    Teaching strategies and techniques depend partly on the type of programme and the needs they are designed to meet, but they also depend on the educational philosophy and values of the particular system, and the educational characteristics and potential of the technologies used. There may be a connection between teaching strategies, economy and the choice of technology.

    Learning materials and resources are essential components in all distance learning systems. Comprehensive, well designed materials may stimulate self-directed learning and thus influence the quality of the system as a whole. Design, development and production of materials are often considered as a sub-system in distance teaching organizations. Previously produced, existing materials, text-books, software etc. may be used but in most cases each programme benefits from having specifically designed learning materials.

    Communication between teachers and learners is a necessary component in distance education, as in all other forms of education. Communication technologies distribute messages in text, still and moving images, and sound. Knowledge-generating messages may be communicated to large numbers of learners, either synchronously or asynchronously, .pushed. by broadcasting or accessed on demand through audio/video players or Internet. As these devices change, so the quality and nature of the messages will change.

    Thus, new Internet devices will make it possible on the one hand for larger numbers of people to share a common learning experience, in real time, or on the other, to enable an individual learner to have a unique personal interaction with a teacher or with another learner, no matter where located. More importantly these experiences, since they do not depend on physical access, can be of much higher quality than were possible before. They will increasingly be available on a common platform, as bandwidth limitations become less significant than at present.

    Communication serves two purposes. One is the distribution of information. This delivery system may comprise both distribution of pre-packaged material and transmission of synchronous or broadcast programmes, lectures etc. The second role of communication is the crucial component of all education which is the interaction between teachers and learners, and, where possible, between learners also. In some forms of distance education this learner interaction is practically non-existent, but in most cases it is considered important and may be provided in different ways. Often students meet together physically in groups, some times connected with other forms of local support. New technologies allow the organization of .virtual groups., and in countries where access to the Internet is common, this is the fastest growing approach to distance teaching.

    Support delivered locally is a common component in most single mode institutions. A letter, a telephone call or an e-mail message is of course delivered locally and is more likely to be the means of learner support in dual mode institutions. What is meant here is, however, support in a form that allows some kind of direct (face-to-face) interaction between the learner and a teacher or a mentor/facilitator. This component may be organized completely as face-to-face events, or in combination with communication at a distance (teleconferences etc.). Local support is usually given in a study centre or resource centre. The centre may also offer access to other learning resources, equipment etc.

    The student and staff management sub-system is often distinguished from the course materials sub-system. From an administrative perspective the student and staff management sub-system comprises admission, allocation to courses and student services, administering the learning and teaching procedures, assignments and assessment, monitoring drop-out and completion, and examinations. Staff may be contracted on a part-time basis or may be in the core faculty in the case of a dual mode institution, but in either case they have to be recruited, trained and monitored. A range of other experts with different qualifications is also needed, either as full-time staff or as external consultants: planners, instructional designers, developers and producers, researchers, media experts, marketing experts and administrative staff.

    Effective management and administration needs not only competent staff, but also well designed, efficient administrative systems and routines, planning and monitoring systems, budgetary and accounting systems etc. Many of these will be quite different from the corresponding systems needed in the management of other forms of education.

    The requirements of housing and equipment may also be very different from conventional education institutions. A single mode distance learning system has no residential students, and thus there is little need for classrooms, lecture theatres etc. at the central location. Such facilities may be needed locally, and are often provided in co-operation with local institutions. At the central location there will be need for production facilities and storage capacity, although some decentralized production is also possible. In a dual mode institution these distance education facilities have to be accommodated alongside the space dedicated to the institution.s primary mission.

    Finally, evaluation should be a component, in order to provide information relevant to the adjustment of the roles and operation of system components, and in order to secure their optimal contribution and development. The success of any distance education institution, dual or single mode, is highly dependent on the efficiency and effectiveness of the monitoring and evaluation system, without which it may be impossible for administrators to be aware of problems in the system until the system itself breaks down. It is not possible to rely upon the kind of informal, unstructured feedback that may be sufficient in the conventional classroom.


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